With just a couple lousy power chords and a decent snarl in your voice, you can bluff your way into a punk or garage band. Perhaps, with enough unbridled vitriol, you may even achieve greatness. But bluegrass music isn’t nearly as forgiving. Demanding exacting technical ability as well as marked authenticity, the form—by its very nature—shuns the half-hearted. For this reason alone the young turks in King Wilkie deserve kudos for even attempting to break into a genre typically associated with the Greatest Generation of players.
Hailing from Charlottesville, Va., King Wilkie possesses the ingredients and the understanding, imbuing originals like “Broke Down and Lonesome” and “Goodbye So Long” with the right lyrical and stylistic earmarks, while also tipping their hats to the old-school with a cover of Jimmie Rogers’ “Blue Yodel #7.” Their chops are evident on this disc, which showcases razor-sharp licks on banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar. But what’s missing is that damned unnamable. Like bourbon drained from the oak cask prematurely, the music here is pleasing but not up to the standard set by those legendary bluegrass acts King Wilkie tries so hard to emulate. Perhaps, with time, King Wilkie will eventually mellow, offering listeners a slightly more distinct vintage.